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House of Commons

Monday 13 June 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Queen's speech (answer to address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the household reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows: I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.


Committee of Selection


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Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Disability Discrimination Act

1. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What assessment her Department has made of the progress of leisure and tourism facilities towards compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.[2991]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): My Department is working to ensure that all service providers in the tourism, leisure and sport sectors not only meet their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, but go further in making opportunities available to people with disabilities. That work includes funding support for sports and leisure disability organisations, and for VisitBritain's work in promoting accessibility standards in the tourism industry.

Rosie Cooper: In my constituency of West Lancashire, in the past 12 months, the council has gone into partnership with Serco to provide leisure facilities. The partnership was predicated on the promise to modernise both services and equipment. Unfortunately, in the Skelmersdale area, for example in the Nye Bevan pool, the works did not include making facilities such as changing rooms suitable for use by disabled people. That has led to constituents in the Skelmersdale area feeling left out and excluded. Simple inexpensive work such as putting an induction loop in the reception area was not done either. Can my right hon. Friend remind organisations and local authorities of their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, so that any improvements, no matter how small, are undertaken with the needs of disabled residents and their responsibilities under that Act in mind?
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Mr. Speaker: Order. I did not stop the hon. Lady, but her question must be briefer next time.

Mr. Caborn: I can readily understand that my hon. Friend, as a former director of the Merseyside centre for deaf people, has a great deal of passion for this subject, which is probably why she took a little longer with her question. Yes, I will write to local authorities, which must take opportunities to ensure that there is such investment in facilities for disabled people. I will write to local authorities, not just to those in Skelmersdale, to remind them of their obligations under the 1995 Act.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): While physical access to a whole raft of leisure facilities is beginning to improve, staff attitudes are often still a barrier to disabled people being able to access such facilities. Is the Minister's Department doing anything to ensure that proper disability awareness training is in place in all such facilities, and are there any examples of good practice that his Department is promoting?

Mr. Caborn: Yes, many example of good practice exist. As I said in answer to the initial question, it is not just the obligations under the 1995 Act but the spirit of that Act that must be met—we must promote such access for disabled people. For example, Sport England is investing in excess of £1 million in the inclusive fitness initiative to make sure that facilities in centres are adapted for people with disabilities and able-bodied people. Bringing people together in that way increases awareness of how they can work together. In the Commonwealth games a couple of years ago, disabled people and able-bodied people competed together for the same medals, which was a first and a move in the right direction.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am not really surprised that the Minister did not give his assessment of the progress in this area, because accurate statistical information on disability provision, or on any matter, is woefully inadequate in the tourism sector. Given that the Government have made commitments both nationally and to the European Union to move to a basis defined by specifications laid down by the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, when will they invest the money for the tourism statistics improvement initiative to which they say that they are committed? Only when they do so will we really know how provision for disabled people is progressing.

Mr. Caborn: As I have said, we are working through VisitBritain to promote accessibility standards in the tourism industry. There are 8.5 million people with disabilities in the country, they have 6 million carers, and their spending power amounts to about £40 billion a year. The industry has a vested interest in attracting those people, and it is doing that. I think that we have a very good record.

If the hon. Gentleman wants an assessment, I will write to VisitBritain and obtain one for him, but he should support what is being done, rather than deriding it. He would do a lot more to change people's attitudes than he does by carping.
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Royal Parks Agency

2. Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): What steps the Royal Parks Agency takes to ensure that its policies reflect the views of communities living next to and using their parks.[2992]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): The royal parks are maintained by the Government on behalf of the nation. The Royal Parks Agency consults a wide range of organisations in a number of different ways. They include major formal consultation exercises, statutory consultation with locally elected representatives, and less formal meetings with a wide range of local interest groups and individuals.

Justine Greening: The Minister will know that the closure of the Robin Hood gate has caused serious congestion and road safety issues in my constituency. How can that process properly reflect local residents' views when it ignores Wandsworth borough council, which is against the closure; ignores me, not just as a candidate but as, now, an elected Member of Parliament representing residents who want the gate to be reopened; and ignores residents such as Mr. and Mrs. Cobb of Ponsonby road? They have written twice to Lord McIntosh, the previous Minister, and have not even received a reply. They describe the current situation as chaos, and, more important, say:

that is, Roe Church primary school.

No environmental or road safety assessment has been   carried out. Will the Minister undertake those assessments and reconsider his decision?

Mr. Lammy: The road has been closed since 2003. There has been an assessment, and there are certainly no safety concerns.

In making a judgment, I had to bear in mind that people were using the road and not stopping in Richmond park, and also that this was a site of great scientific interest. It is to conserve the park, not just for the people of Richmond but for the people of the nation, that the gate remains closed.

The hon. Lady asked about consultation. My predecessors did consult. That is why the Friends of Richmond Park support my decision.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): As one who represents a large number of deer in one of the royal parks, may I ask whether the Minister realises that the wider function to which he referred is being seriously undermined by a huge maintenance backlog of about £110 million, further increased by cuts this year and the need to assume all the liabilities incurred from the fiasco of the Diana memorial fountain? What is the Minister doing about that?

Mr. Lammy: I am due to visit the park on Thursday, and will be happy to report back once I have done so.
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Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): When he visits the park on Thursday, will the Minister make the time and the effort to look at the impact of increased traffic not only outside the Roehampton gate in the constituency of the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), but outside the Kingston gate in my constituency? It is a 20 per cent. increase, in a residential area with schools. Does the Minister agree that the decision to close the road permanently without co-operating to introduce and fund traffic management is not acceptable?

Mr. Lammy: No, I do not agree. The park has been there since 1635. We cannot condone a situation in which local people use it as a rat run and it is not available to those of us who wish to conserve it. Traffic issues outside the park are rightly a matter for the local authority, but I remind the hon. Lady that my decision is supported by English Heritage, English Nature, the Royal Parks wildlife group and the Richmond Park green voice group.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Perhaps we can get away from the Richmond park mafia for a moment or two. I draw the Minister's attention to the Live8 concert taking place in Hyde park, and to the "Frieze Art" exhibition in Regent's park this October. In neither case has there been any sense of the local community's views being represented. Will the Minister investigate this issue, particularly in view of the Hyde park commercialisation debate that I led in this place last year, which was replied to by his former ministerial colleague, Estelle Morris? She gave a clear indication that local residents' associations and amenity societies would be informed of any events taking place in the royal parks.

Mr. Lammy: It is of course important that local people be kept informed about events in Hyde park, and I undertake to look into this issue. But the hon. Gentleman will doubtless be pleased that the number of events in Hyde park has fallen from 14 in 2002 to the current figure of seven. He will also be pleased to learn that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer undertook to ensure that after Live8, the park be returned to its previous condition.

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